Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘tree

An early-in-the-season and early-in-the-year look at fully fruited possumhaw

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On January 3rd I drove across town to Austin’s main post office to talk with a postal inspector about an unknown packet I received; it turned out to be our federal government spending our tax money to send us yet another round of Covid tests that I hadn’t specifically asked for. Afterwards, a few blocks away from the post office, I noticed a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) with a good amount of fruit on it. I also noticed how wispy the clouds were. So began my quest, carried out in at least four places that morning and early afternoon, to match up those two things in photographs.

 

  

I also took dozens of pictures of the clouds in their own right, so right did they look in the sky.

 

 

 

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Check out a four-minute video in which Konstantin Kisin describes a clever psychological experiment that shows how someone’s mindset can distort the person’s perception of reality. In particular, a belief in victimhood can lead a person to perceive victimization where there isn’t any.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 21, 2023 at 4:26 AM

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An early-in-the-season yet late-in-the-year drive along the Possumhaw Trail

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The stretch of TX 29 between Liberty Hill in Williamson County and Burnet in Burnet County might well be called the Possumhaw Trail for the dozens and dozens of Ilex decidua trees scattered along the route. They become conspicuous from December through February for their bright red fruits (technically drupes, commonly called berries). This picture is from the last day of 2022. The green and tan leaves weren’t from the possumhaw, all of whose leaves had already fallen, but rather from a greenbrier vine, Smilax bona-nox.

 

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Last year and yesterday I mentioned Marva Collins, who for decades worked wonders of education with black children in a poor Chicago neighborhood. I’ve found some online videos about her and her school that you can watch:

Success! The Marva Collins Approach (1981).

60 Minutes: Marva Collins (1995, following up their first story in 1979): Part 1 and Part 2.

After the original 60 Minutes story aired in 1979, Marva Collins “received over 6000 letters from desperate parents.”

You can also read a thorough review of Marva Collins’ Way, the book I cited yesterday.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 20, 2023 at 4:27 AM

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We interrupt fall color to bring you fall color

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The interrupted fall color is from New Mexico; it will resume tomorrow. Interrupting it are two colorful views from Austin. For a couple of months I’d watched the fruit forming on the yaupon tree (Ilex vomitoria) outside my window. First it was green, then yellow, then red. Finally on the sunny afternoon of November 13th I figured I was ripe enough to take some pictures of it, which I did with my telephoto lens. Notice that not all the little fruits ripened at the same rate.

The second view is from yesterday along the Capital of Texas Highway in my hilly part of Austin. The picture shows a seasonally colorful colony of poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. As much as we may crave order, nature is often a jumble, and there’s no such thing as personal space when it comes to plants.

  

 

 

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Two generations ago, my father, an immigrant from Mexico, benefitted from programs that gave him access to job opportunities and scholarships that were not available to my mother, whose Ashkenazi ancestry had imbued her with lighter skin. My wife, who immigrated to North America as a refugee from Ukraine when it was part of the former USSR, was similarly excluded from work and educational opportunities due to her ancestry. At what point can we start to hold every person to the same standards, and seek to grant them access to the same opportunities—regardless of skin color, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, or other immutable characteristics?

Discriminating against a person based on the color of that person’s skin upends this nation’s foundational tenets of equality, while sacrificing our humanity in the process. Hard-earned principles and freedoms formed over centuries through the democratic process should not be abandoned. Treating applicants as representatives of identity groups, rather than as unique individuals with intrinsic value, elevates institutional interests over individual rights. In turn, this promotes division, resentment, and dehumanization.

 

So wrote Bion Bartning in a November 18th article for FAIR,
the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism.
You can read the full article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 27, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Ants love flameleaf sumac flowers

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Ants love the flowers of flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata. It’s hard to see individual ants and flowers above, so here’s an enlargement of a little piece of the top picture:

I found this young flameleaf sumac flowering in my part of town on August 23rd.

  

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Truth does indeed have immense power; yet it remains extremely elusive. No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth. For that reason truth can be arrived at only through the untrammelled contest between and among competing opinions, in which as many viewpoints as possible are given a fair and equal hearing. It has therefore always been our contention that laws, mores, practices and prejudices that place constraints on freedom of expression are a disservice to society. Indeed these are the devices employed by falsehood to lend it strength in its unequal contest with truth.

That’s from a speech Nelson Mandela gave to the International Press Institute Congress on February 14, 1994. Jacob Mchangama quoted it in his 2022 book Free Speech. He then noted, unfortunately, that “according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,010 journalists were imprisoned from 2011 to 2020. This represents an alarming 78% increase from the previous decade of 2001 to 2010.” Mchangama later added that “the V-Dem Institute’s Democracy Report 2020—the largest global dataset on democracy—found that media censorship intensified in a record-breaking thirty-seven countries in 2019.”

And I’m dismayed to report the degree to which censorship and suppression of information have increased in my own country. For example, a September 1st article in the Epoch Times by Zachary Stieber documents some of the ways that “more than 50 officials in President Joe Biden’s administration across a dozen agencies have been involved with efforts to pressure Big Tech companies to crack down on alleged misinformation.” Some of that “misinformation” came from highly qualified doctors, professors, and medical researchers who happened to have opinions about the pandemic that differed from the official party line.

The documents that the Epoch Times article cites as evidence that the government pressured companies into censoring opposing opinions “were part of a preliminary production in a lawsuit levied against the government by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, later joined by experts maligned by federal officials.” You can read an announcement about that from Missouri’s Attorney General. It’s likely we’ll learn more as the lawsuit progresses.

When we look at events in the past we’re appalled, for example, by the way authorities suppressed the scientific findings of Galileo because those findings differed from orthodox—and incorrect—views of the world. We should be equally appalled when powerful people in our own era suppress views they disagree with.

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UPDATE: After I wrote this post (I usually prepare posts several days in advance of posting), the Epoch Times put out an article on September 7 which began as follows:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and other top Biden administration officials who were resisting efforts to obtain their communications with Big Tech companies must hand over the records, a federal judge ruled on Sept. 6.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee, ordered the government to quickly produce documents after it was sued by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri over alleged collusion with Big Tech firms such as Facebook. The initial tranche of discovery, released on Aug. 31, revealed that more than 50 government officials across a dozen agencies were involved in applying pressure to social media companies to censor users.

But some of the officials refused to provide any answers, or answer all questions posed by the plaintiffs. Among them: Fauci, who serves as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

The government claimed that Fauci should not be required to answer all questions or provide records in his capacity as NIAID director or in his capacity as Biden’s chief medical adviser. It also attempted to withhold records and responses from Jean-Pierre.

In the new ruling on Tuesday breaking the stalemate, Doughty said both Fauci and Jean-Pierre needed to comply with the interrogatories and record requests.

 

As I said above, it’s likely we’ll learn more as the lawsuit progresses. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits our government from interfering with citizens’ free speech. Trying to get around that prohibition by pressuring or colluding with non-governmental entities to do the government’s censoring for it is also illegal. You’re welcome to read the full Epoch Times article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 8, 2022 at 4:34 AM

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Embarking on another round of beetle galleries

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In April I showed you some bark beetle galleries on a fallen tree in Great Hills Park. On August 21st I returned to that spot and embarked on another round of picture-taking at the same tree and a couple of nearby ones.

For more information about this phenomenon, you can read “The Truth Behind Bug Trails” and “Bark Beetles.”

 

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I haven’t given enough credit to Sharyl Attkisson, a multi-award-winning journalist who promotes free inquiry and accurate reporting. Last year I watched Jan Jekielek interview her on those subjects but I didn’t post a link to the interview; here it is now. And there are plenty of good stories on her website.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2022 at 4:50 AM

Two degrees of passing away

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In February of 2021 a days-long freeze killed off all the huisache trees (Vachellia farnesiana) in Austin. I saw no new growth for the rest of that year but am happy to report seeing some green springing up from the wreckage in the past few months, even with our current drought. The broken remains of the huisache tree shown here along John Henry Faulk Dr. on August 1st caught my attention because of the Clematis drummondii vine that had climbed on it and had entered its fluffy stage, with the seed-bearing fibers gradually turning dingy and accounting for the vernacular name old man’s beard. Seen from this angle, the fluffy mound calls to mind—at least to my fluffy mind—the way the main part of Spain looks on a map.

 

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Last month I quoted from a talk about free speech that Carl Sagan gave in around 1987. The other day I came across another prescient passage, this time from his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

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© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2022 at 4:27 AM

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Mesquite pods with added interest

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While out on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin on the first day of August I came upon a mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa) with plenty of long, well-developed pods on it. Whether the species name glandulosa accounts for the two resinous drops on one of these pods, I don’t know. I do know that the drops attracted me as a photographer. Not till after I got home and looked at the pictures on my computer screen did I notice the tiny spider close to the larger of the two drops. From a different frame taken at a different angle, here’s a closer look at the tiny spider and the larger resin drop:

 

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On Monday I saw a photograph showing a 2018 demonstration outside Minnesota’s Capitol. Prominent in the photograph was a handwritten placard that began: “Hammer[s,] screwdrivers and knives kill more people than rifles.” You know me: I immediately wondered if the claim is true. To try to find facts to confirm or refute it, I did an Internet search and turned up an article from the Joslyn Law Firm. Here’s how it starts:

With the renewed push by the federal government for an assault weapons ban, we couldn’t help but wonder, just how often are assault rifles really to blame for crimes? More specifically, how often are they used as murder weapons when compared to all of the other types of weapons available?

Using FBI homicide statistics from the 2019 Crime in the United States report, the insights team at the Joslyn Law Firm charted out how often different types of weapons were used in homicides in the U.S. Of the 16,425 homicides that occurred in 2019, the FBI was able to collect supplemental data for 13,922 of them, which is what our data is based on. The weapon types are broken down into the different types of firearms: handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a category for homicides in which the type of firearm was unknown. It also compares the number of homicides that were committed by non-firearm weapons such as knives or cutting instruments as well as bodily weapons, which include people’s hands, fists, and feet. Non-firearm weapons were used for one-quarter of all homicides in the United States.

You can look through the resulting chart (click on it to enlarge it). Of the 13,922 homicides in 2019, rifles accounted for a mere 364 (2.6%). If you want to interpret “rifle” loosely as “long gun” and therefore include shotguns, you can add another 200 (1.4%). In contrast, there were 1476 (10.6%) homicides using knives or other cutting instruments, so already the claim on the demonstrator’s placard seems correct. Because the placard also included hammers and screwdrivers, the outweighing of rifles is even greater.

One possible objection is that 3326 (23.9%) of the homicides involved firearms of an undetermined type. Might enough of those have been rifles to increase the rifle total of 364 to more than the 1476 incidents involving knives and other cutting instruments? While that’s theoretically possible, it’s extremely unlikely, given that among the firearms that have been identified in homicides, rifles account for only 5.25%. We have no reason to suppose the distribution of undetermined gun types is overwhelmingly different from the distribution of determined gun types.

The current push among certain activists is to ban so-called assault rifles, which are a subset of rifles in general, and therefore account for even less than the 2.6% of all the rifles known to have been used in homicides.

To fill out the broader picture, notice that there were 600 (4.3%) murders involving “hands, fists, feet, etc.” (I wonder about that “etc.”: is there homicide by knee or elbow?) That number is also greater in its own right than the known number of homicides committed with rifles. Blunt objects, poison, explosives, fire, narcotics, and other agents accounted for 1591 (11.4%) of murders—again a lot more than the number using rifles. People committed by far the greatest number of homicides with handguns: 6365, or 45.7%. For that reason activists who want to ban “assault” rifles work to make it hard for people to legally get handguns, too. (Of course criminals, by the very fact of being criminals, abide by no prohibitions on guns.) In any case, short of repealing or tortuously reinterpreting the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the complete prohibition of guns in the United States can’t happen.

In summary, based on the FBI’s 2019 statistics, the claim that hammers, screwdrivers, and knives kill more people in the United States than rifles turns out to be true, and by a convincingly large margin. If that doesn’t seem right, it’s probably because whenever a mass shooting involving a rifle like an AK-47 or an AR-15 occurs, it immediately makes the news and stays there for days. Meanwhile, we hardly ever hear about most of the much greater number of people who are killed individually by other means every single day of the year. Psychologists refer to that as the availability bias or availability heuristic: what you’re frequently exposed to looms much larger in your view of the world than what you’re seldom exposed to.

It’s important to have all the relevant facts and statistics when evaluating something.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2022 at 4:41 AM

Red and brown offsetting the green

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The tree that botanists classify as Parkinsonia aculeata is commonly known even in English as paloverde, a Spanish term that we might translate as ‘green wood.’ While parts of the tree’s branches and trunk often turn conspicuously green, its thorns take on warm colors like red and brown, as you see above. Also sporting some colors in that range was the planthopper shown below on one of the paloverde tree’s leaves. The date was June 24th; the location was Fireoak Dr., a couple of miles from home.

 

  

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From 2017 through 2019 the folks at Gapminder posed various questions to people. Two days ago I listed four of them for you to try your hand (or brain) at. The correct answer to each is in bold italics.

1)  In 1980, roughly 40% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, with less than $2 per day.
What is the share today?       A) 10%       B) 30%       C) 50%

2)  During the past 40 years the amount of oil and natural gas remaining in known reserves has:
A) been reduced to less than half       B) remained more or less the same       C) more than doubled

3)  How much of the world’s total land surface has some physical infrastructure built on it, like houses or roads (excluding farm land)?        A) less than 5%       B) around 15%       C) more than 25%

4)  How many of the world’s one-year-old children were vaccinated against some disease in 2019?        
A) less than 20%       B) around 50%       C) more than 80% 

 For all four questions, Gapminder found that the right answer got the smallest share of votes.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 5, 2022 at 4:25 AM

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Not red this time

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Every now and then I’ve shown you a photograph of the many little red fruits that adorn yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria) at the end of the year and into the new year. You’ve also occasionally seen some of the gluttons, both avian and mammalian, that feast on those fruits (the last two links take you to cute little animal pictures; check them out).

On April 15th in Great Hills Park I found a couple of yaupons in full bloom—something I hadn’t previously seen (at least not consciously). The top picture provides a close look at a sprig of buds and blooms. In contrast, the bottom photograph pulls way back to give you an overview, a gestalt. In neither picture do you see the many insects that the flowers attracted.

 

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“Our task is that of making ourselves individuals. The conscience of a race is the gift of its individuals.”
— Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 19, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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Bark beetle galleries

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In Great Hills Park on April 3rd a fallen tree trunk revealed bark beetle galleries.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2022 at 4:20 AM

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